The words “Quintron” and “art” perhaps haven’t been used together in too many of the same sentences — not nearly as often as “Quintron” and “dancing,” “Quintron” and “party,” or “Quintron” and “man, I got way too drunk last night.” But that might all change soon when the famous New Orleans one-man-band and his puppeteer wife Miss Pussycat (aka Panacea) unveil their January show at New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). ANTIGRAVITY interviewed Q&P on one recent afternoon just after they’d finished hosting a second line stop at Spellcaster Lodge. Meaning we were all a little tipsy—not a bad scenario for any interviewer pit against Q’s renowned mysteriousness. Miss Pussycat remained reticent about spilling the red beans regarding their first museum show. But after sharing a few more Guinnesses with the couple, AG got them rambling about the NOMA exhibit, Drum Buddies, jamming with Lou Reed, ten-turn 10k potentiometers, and why Quintron suddenly digs New Orleans’ art scene.
So, how did you two get approached by NOMA to do an exhibit?
Quintron: NOMA’s new curator Miranda Lash contacted Miss Pussycat about a year ago. They kind of offered for us to do whatever we wanted, really. Miss Pussycat: Miranda Lash is awesome. She’s relatively new in town. She worked for the Menil in Houston before this, and for the Dallas Museum. She just wants to look at weird stuff and talk about it—and not just art, per say, she’ll talk about like, the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders.
So what did you come up with for the museum?
MP: You have to wait and see!
Oh c’mon! We’re doing an interview! You have to tell me something about the show.
MP: It’s in the contemporary art wing of the Wiseman Gallery. Quintron has two rooms and a hallway.
Q: And she has one giant room. There will be a room devoted to puppetry, a room devoted to the history of Drum Buddies—a Drum Buddy retrospective, with examples from each series. I just can’t fade anything in; you can’t turn the vocals down. It’s done. And what that does is it really makes you think about how you play. If you wish a part was quieter, you can only play quieter, you hit the keys lighter or you back off the mic. It makes you work the mic, and think about the relationship between the human being and mic, and the person and the instrument. Especially with the Hammond B-3 there are the draw bars, they’re part of the instrument and you EQ it as you go, back the treble off as you’re playing or whatever. Recording that way has definitely made me a better player, because the only way I can change the parameters is while I’m playing. I am interested in this way of doing it because of how it makes you emerge as a musician.
Haven’t you recorded a couple the regular, modern way in a studio?
Q: Yes, and I hated it. We recorded two in studios. I only have regrets about the one record we did in Austin, Are You Ready For An Organ Solo?, which was a straight-up overdub, studio record. A lot of people like it, it’s good songs, but I think it’s tepid, lame, and lacks energy. The other ones sound better.
I take it this NOMA show is the first time your work has been presented in a museum context?
MP: Well we did play once in the Dallas Museum of Art, but that was pretty horrible…
Q: This is really the first time we’re doing something in a museum. We’re not part of the gallery scene or any of that, and this is the first time we’ll be surrounded by like Picasso and Warhol and Giacometti.
Quintron, since you’re mainly a musician, how are you going to represent yourself visually for this exhibit?
Q: The Drum Buddies, especially the new ones, are beautiful objects, and I want them to be respected, and featured, as works of art. Aesthetically, instead of primary colored painted regions the ones I built for the museum exhibit have mirrored regions. In the museum I want them to have a glowing shining light on them, and they’re all going to be on pedestals and they have to be under glass—it’s a museum rule. So I’m also building a clever interactive finished the newest series. In the other room I will install my entire recording studio and myself for eight hours a day for three months, and make a new recorded work. Essentially, it will be like I work at the museum.
AG: Meaning, if you leave for too long for lunch you’ll get fired?
Q: No, because I’m not getting paid. It’s a self-imposed work schedule.
Is three months how long it usually takes you to make a record?
Q: I don’t have any usuals.
Well, you’ve made like a dozen albums, there aren’t any similarities in the way you work or the time it takes? I was under the impression that you always perform and record everything live, EQ it and that’s that.
Q: Most of them I make at home by myself and they take hundreds of hours of experimenting. I like to invent my own sounds and avenues, and I write as I record. Recording and editing is part of writing for me. You record a live version of a song then listen to it and say, “We need another chorus here, we need more bass here, we need to back off the mic here,” then you go back and do it again. It’s just like they used to do at Stax or Sun studios.
Do you have songs ready to record at NOMA?
Q: As far as recording in the museum I have no idea, no plans, no songs written. I don’t know what that environment will do to me, or inspire me to do. My motto is: clean slate. I’m not taking any offers for anyone to put it out; I don’t want to have any preconceived ideas about this record whatsoever before I start. It could be one long fart noise for all I know. It’s such a weird environment to record that, it could just end up being nothing — I also want the freedom to fail.
But you do know what equipment you’ll be using, right?
Q: Yes, I record on a series one Neotech board, live to hard drive— meaning, not a Pro-Tools situation, but like a digital version of two- inch tape. No multi-tracking, it’s left, right, input, record, done. YouDrum Buddy that’s almost like a video game: it’s going to be behind glass, surrounded by mirrors so it looks like Drum Buddy Infinity, but there’ll be a remote panel you can play, and a foot pedal so you can control the speed, and headphones to listen. It’s the museum, so it should be museum-like. Also, since I don’t make art and I wanted to have something on the walls, they let me curate a collection to be surrounded by while I’m recording. I’ve been going to NOMA once a week to go through the vaults with Miranda. And I decided I wanted to have only portraits, because I wanted to have a sort of audience, people around me.
What type of portraits did you pick?
Q: Great portrait painters who can really paint and capture the soul of a person. Nothing abstract; people that look like people. I spent a lot of time looking in people’s eyes and deciding whether I could hang out with this person. There were some that were great and weird and creepy that I was drawn to but…can I really be with that person for three months?
Though you do not consider yourself an artist, I do remember you once telling me that you were planning to open a business complimentary to all the new art galleries in your neighborhood…
Q: Yes, I was going to open a pornography bookstore and jack-shack next to every new gallery on St. Claude. “Mr. Q’s Jackshack.”
And the purpose of that would be to…?
Q: Just to keep it real. Maybe someone might need some release… But I do love [the new St Claude art scene] and think it’s very vital. New Orleans’ visual art scene has obviously been revitalized and become important since Katrina for whatever reason. Not because of the tragedy but because of the influx of insanely creative young people who’ve come here since the storm. Visual art and openings and galleries in New Orleans now feel like an event I want to go to, and not like something I have to go to.
Or not something you just go to for free wine. The St Claude scene also brought back the free drink tradition! Which, I don’t mean to debase it all as just free drinks, but I do believe free drinks equal a more down-home, fun community event, and when it becomes “stand in one line to buy expensive drink tickets, then go stand in another line for drinks…”
Q: I can get free wine at the fuckin’ Saturn Bar. No, something has happened to the visual arts community. For the first time since the ’70s, which was the heyday for visual arts in the French Quarter, art now has an importance in this city. And as much as I will bitch about the St. Claude gallery scene—which is just me being an old curmudgeon—it’s amazing. It’s always been rock bands that have had that power. Now in the last four or five years, people are having art shows that people flock to like they’re rock concerts. And there are rock shows the same nights, and it’s the people who are in rock bands going to the art shows! [New Orleans art] is now a real communication with people on the streets of New Orleans, working class people. The whole graffiti conversation with the Grey Ghost. Art became street, it became plebian. And there’s a new energy
I dunno, Morgana [King, Arts Council of New Orleans] took me to plenty of cool shit before Katrina. That’s how I met all the Good Children people. So, I actually think it was just a matter of time before all these people who’ve lived here for quite a while joined forces to open galleries that are more about creativity and fun than just another money thing. And I think if these St. Claude places had been here before Katrina, it would have had the same energy.
Q: No, there was a psychic shift, a moment when it became important. Prospect.1 [recent art biennial] would not have happened without Katrina. And all those galleries opened for that. Then there was something about the catastrophe that made visual art valid to people who aren’t visual artists. Before that, the only people who went to art openings were visual artists, and people who knew or were friends with the artists.
Panacea, what about your part in the exhibit? You’ve gotta tell me somethin’.
MP: Okay. I am going to have a whole room full of my parallel universe. The theme and title of the show is “Parallel Universe”. Quintron has his parallel universe, and I have mine, and those two universes run parallel too. Mine will be all puppets with Plexiglass boxes over them, and lots of puppet movies running on a loop. There will be a new episode of Trixie and the Treetrunks I made for this exhibit, about Marsha, who works in a hair salon.
What’s up with Fred Armisen’s (SNL comedian who plays Obama) address tacked on your wall over there?
Q: I guess it’s after Christmas, so… A Drum Buddy was sold to Fred Armisen’s fiancé, Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men. Loooooove that show. And I know Fred Armisen from Chicago; he was in punk bands, played drums in Trenchmouth. Elizabeth Moss emailed me wanting to buy him a Drum Buddy as a Christmas present, so I made one and mailed it out two days ago. I’ve been wanting to tell people but…
You’ve sold them to a few other famous people including Nels Cline from WILCO, and also the performance artist/musician Laurie Anderson—can you tell our readers that amazing little story?
Q: Yes. Laurie Anderson’s bass player used to live here, and got her one for Christmas. I went to New York to deliver it to her and show her how to play it. And I got to meet and hang out with her and Lou Reed who, I think she’s now married to. And we played music together for about an hour—me and Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson had a jam session.
Did it sound good?
Q: It did, once Lou Reed got his distortion pedal out and stopped being a dick.
He was being a dick?
Q: He’s a notorious asshole. Laurie Anderson was delightful. Lou Reed at the end of the day, though, was awesome. He’s a crazy noisy feedback motherfucker and I love him for that. We were jamming and he was feeding back through the drum buddy and I was tweaking and effecting his guitar and Laurie Anderson was playing the violin. It was fun. It was noise. I like drony, organic noise, and they’re both into that. I could tell from Lou Reed’s records he was super into feedback, but playing with him it was obvious he likes overtones and harmonics and noise. He was cool to play with. He was good. His sensitivity was on point, as far as what I’m into.
How long now have you been making the Drum Buddies?
Q: I started developing them in the mid ’90s. The first for sale version was 1999, and there have been three editions since then. At first I just made it for me, then realized it was an original invention and got a patent. Somehow the validation of a government patent made me pursue the idea. By now I could have moved on to some other wacky invention but inventions really improve and progress and develop through repetition, trial and error and learning through failure. And dude it’s like [opens the top of a Drum Buddy] look how clean the electronics are now. The original one was just a mess.
How much is this new series of Drum Buddies going for?
Q: The new ones, they cost like $800 just to make, and I’m spending like twelve hours a day for three months to make one. They’re special. Mirrored tops are never going to happen again; some girl made them for me. The furniture maker who made the cabinets is not going to do that for me again. The new ones have a speed pedal; before you would control the speed with a knob. So I want them to be priced and sold as art objects. I want [large amount he does not want the general public to know] apiece for them. And that’s nothing! Old ones have gone for $10,000 on eBay. And you know, I could have sold the patent, and they would make a plastic simplified version, and it would probably sound cleaner and better. But I want it to be an art object.
Can’t you do both?
Q: No, I don’t want it to be that, I want it to be this! I want this to be my legacy.
Did you teach yourself how to do all this electronics stuff?
Q: Books. Books are college. What everybody learned from college I learned the exact same things from the same textbooks. My consultants are my father—an electrical engineer—and my uncle who owns over a dozen patents in electro-luminescewere married to them. And now there are fresh ideas, and I actually care.
What do they think about your invention?
Q: My dad is really proud of me. He’s not a musical guy, he’s an Army guy.
Does he come and see you play?
I am interested in this because my dad saw me play a couple times this year and only now am I sort of meeting his expectations. Before, he just wondered why I was screaming. Did your dad see the first more abstract incarnations of the Quintron music?
Q: He did see the drum version [of my one-man-band]. My mom cried the first time I played. She thought I was really mentally unstable and needed help of some sort. My dad was really into the inventiveness of the one-man-band setup and the instruments and started offering me advice. He’s very, very into the Drum Buddy and the design of it. He has helped me a lot, a lot with sourcing parts—a lot of these are sourced through government wholesalers that sell industrial switches and stuff. ’Cause Radio Shack sells consumer stuff, and then there’s like, “Dad I want a ten-turn 10k potentiometer that’s not going to break in ten years, where do you get it from the government?” ’Cause they still use switches and knobs because they don’t break; they don’t use digital push buttons.
But now, when your dad sees you play and you’re doing the pumpin’ dance music, is he like, “Wow it’s really good now!”?
Q: He likes it now. My mom died the night of Katrina, actually, and he got remarried and now he’s got these teenage daughters who are fans—they already were fans. So he’s really into it now because he wants to impress them. When his new teenage daughters had heard of their new brother-in-law, that improved our relationship big time. [Laughs] That was a great day. I was validated through my new sisters!